Friends of a Certain Age

Friends of a Certain Age

My friend @hopefulleigh and me, in real life, and posing to optimize your view of all the sippy cups in my kitchen cabinets.

A couple of months ago, a New York Times article asked, “Why is it so hard to make friends over 30?”

I’d been warned years ago that this phenomenon did exist: that it was hard to make friends as an adult. For a long time, I doubted the warning. I had lots of friends.

*****     *****     *****

I’m in my 30s now, and when the article came out I was surprised to reflect back over the last decade and realize that whenever my circumstances changed, so did my circle of friends. Not immediately or anything. It happened slowly. But surely, it happened.

This pattern in my own life is completely common and utterly predictable:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

That’s been true for me in real life. When we started homeschooling, I no longer ran into my old friends while picking my kids up from school. When we changed what church service we attended, I no longer saw the same circle of 9am Sunday regulars. When I scaled back my volunteer commitments, I no longer interacted with those circles I used to regularly see. Bonds that I thought were strong turned out to be merely situational.

At the same time, it kills me that so many of my lifelong friends–those I made when I was younger, when making friends was supposedly easier–live hundreds of miles away from me, or thousands.

And in my day-in, day-out, ordinary life, I miss those friends. 

*****     ******      *****

C. S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”

And with Lewis as my guide, I’ve discovered something unexpected about friendship: those conditions that are so hard to fulfill in real life–proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each otherare pretty easy to fulfill on…the internet.

I’ve been blogging about a year and a half now, and I have been shocked–and I mean shocked–at the ways the internet brings people together. And I don’t just mean couples (although I was beyond thrilled to attend my first e-harmony wedding last month, and to have another one planned for January). I mean friends. Friends brought together by common interests.

*****     *****     *****

There’s been a lot of buzz on the internet this month about the dangers of the internet: it’s a distraction; it’s changing our neural pathways; it’s making us crazy.

These things are all true. But I’d like to remind you: it’s also bringing people together. 

Like just last weekend, my friend Leigh came to visit me here in Louisville. This weekend, I’ll see her in Nashville. Want to know how we met? She tells you on her blog:

Yep, that’s how we met. (And we’re both over 30!) And now we’re actual friends.

*****     *****      *****

These days, I still miss my lifelong friends–the ones that live thousands of miles away. I’m grateful that we can text and email and skype. It’s not the same, but it’s something. Thank you, internet.

At the same time, I’m grateful for my new friends–including the ones I met online. A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to meet true friends on the internet. But I am, and it is, and I’m grateful.

*****     *****      *****

When I was young, I had to memorize a song for music class. It went like this: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold. 

Yes.

 

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43 comments

  1. Carrie says:

    That’s probably one of my FAVORITE Lewis quotes because it’s so true, and so rare. I am blessed to be married to my honest-to-goodness best friend, but there are times when we look at each other and say, “Do we have any friends?” We know a lot of people, but that special “click” just hasn’t occurred in a really long time. The people who get our humor, who agree politically and who find the same things important, who can challenge us to re-think things.

    What I have found is that over the course of my life, most of my “friendships” have, in fact, been situational. One of the things on my bucket list of life is to find an “Inklings” group of my very own – rather, a group of couples that can all get along and don’t roll their eyes when their spouse speaks. In all truthfulness, our only Inkling-esque couple live an ocean away in Africa, and Peter’s known the husband since they were 8 year old M.K.’s in South America.

    I agree that the Internet has opened up more possibilities for getting to know like-minded people, but sometimes I wonder how “situational” those relationships are as well. After we discuss blogs and books and favorite lattes, would I end up discovering that our commonalities cease to exist? I don’t know.

    In the meantime…I’ll keep trying. 🙂

    • Ditto to Carrie’s first paragraph.

      Ditto to Carrie’s second paragraph.

      Ditto to Carrie’s third paragraph.

      (Carrie, maybe WE should get to know each other. “What? You, too?”)

      Seriously, I do believe that MOST friendships, at least for me, have been situational, and maybe that is best. My dearest friends, the ones who have transcended our situations, are few, but could I really “keep up” with many more?

      • I agree, Lori. 🙂

        I think that a lot of people mistake KNOWING a lot of people, with having a lot of FRIENDS, and I don’t think it’s the same thing. My husband and I share a FB account (yes, we’re one of *those* couples), and we have over 600 “friends” on our list…but really? We’re not friends with 600+ people. We might have rubbed shoulders with them at some point in our lives, but beyond that? Not really. And now I’m adding people I’ve never even met in real life (you know, the blogging friends – like Anne), which isn’t bad, but it makes me think twice before I share something on FB.

        And yes, having a close knit group of a few friends does seem to be more practical to me. The thing that I love about my husbands life-long friend (and I’ve now known him for 16 years) and his wife (who fit right in), is that we can all be apart for YEARS, and when we meet up again, it’s like there was no gap in time. Those kind of friendships are really special and worth keeping, for sure.

        I’m off to check out your blog and see if, perhaps, I’ve found a new kindred spirit in the blogging world. 😉 Thanks for commenting!

  2. Heck, it’s hard to make friends UNDER 30! When I got married and my husband and I moved to Indy five months later, suddenly I had to make friends—we had to make friends. I no longer had all the time in the world to spend getting to know my girlfriends. I had a husband who expected me to spend time with him. Then kids came along, and that takes away even more time. Not that wouldn’t want my kids, mind you, but sometimes it’s painfully obvious that I need to be closer with some girlfriends. It’s just so hard!

  3. I *love* how the internet has brought more friends into my life. I’ve now lived in the Indianapolis area for ten years (!) and in the first 9 years had made two close friends. And one of those moved away 6 years ago. A number of acquaintances, yes, but that’s it.

    In the last year, thanks to twitter mostly, I’ve made real life, in person friends. I’m part of a bookclub, I’ve got my son in an AWANA group… It all began through twitter and being brave enough to go to a meetup with a bunch of people I didn’t know.

    That doesn’t even speak to my hopes for the upcoming Influence conference and my additional hopes to someday take a drive down to Louisville to meet one of my favorite bloggers in person. 🙂

  4. Katie says:

    I’m under thirty, and the DDH and I have lamented our lack of friends for years. I moved to our college town, leaving my friends two states away; he’s from here but never had any close friendships until college. Now all the college friends moved away, we’re still here, and since we’re both not just introverts but painfully shy introverts, making real friends even among people we see frequently (at church or at work) turns out to be difficult if not impossible.

    Which is why I love the internet. It at least keeps me closer to the friends who don’t live nearby, and I’ve met all kinds of interesting people through blogs and the like. I’m still much better at pouring my heart out in a blog comment people may or may not read than at having an actual, confiding conversation one-on-one with anyone, so I still kind of feel like I don’t have any “real” friends. But. The internet’s better than nothing. ^_^

    Which reminds me, I read a survey somewhere (I’ll try to find it again) that said 46% of young people (18 to 30, maybe?) would rather have internet access than a car. The radio host (who is in his fifties) discussing the survey was aghast, because cars made up such a huge part of the social identity of his generation. But I thought, what, only 46%? I think I could figure out how to get around town without a car, but I don’t know what I’d do without the internet!

    • Interesting statistic about young people’s priorities. My husband and I had a conversation similar to that, observing that whereas cars were the status symbol/growing-up milestone possession of teen boys in our generation (we’re in our forties), for our children and their friends it is the hottest new Apple product and the like.

      • Katie says:

        Here’s a link; it was 18 to 24 year-olds, not 30, so I’m outside of that range: http://blogs.barrons.com/stockstowatchtoday/2012/03/23/new-auto-dilemma-young-consumers-want-their-mtv-not-a-gto/

        The context you mention is the context of the article, that car companies are trying to figure out how to sell cars to people who would rather spend money on the latest iPad–that’s the new status symbol.

        But I’m just thinking in terms of use–I “need” the internet (though not any specific gadget that accesses it), which I’ve used since middle school, more than I “need” a car, which I first bought after I graduated college. So if I had to choose one or the other, I’d go with internet access. Though I’m very glad I can actually have both. ^_^

        Just another interesting age and generational topic, I thought.

        • Anne says:

          Very interesting! And I agree, I could get along without my car in my semi-urban area, but I’d hate to give up the tools that keep me connected. Thanks for sharing the link, Katie!

    • A few years ago, my husband and I were talking about moving away, and one of the downsides to leaving Indy for me was that my husband has some really good friends here; good enough that I didn’t want him to lose them & have to start over at a time/life stage when it would be a lot harder to make new ones.

      And, that survey doesn’t surprise me (or actually it does, that the percentage isn’t higher). My husband & I share a vehicle & while it’s not ideal, we make it work. If we had to share the internet in the same way (as in, if he’s using it I couldn’t, and vice versa) we’d both lose our minds. And we are way past 24.

  5. That Lewis quote is so true! And so is your point about finding friendships on the internet. Lately I’ve been finding some wonderful friendships online.

    And yet they don’t always last the way IRL friendships can. So you have learn to embrace the “seasons” of friendships. Know that they may be short-lived, but put your heart into it anyway. It’s worth it.

    • Anne says:

      Elizabeth, I was just reading something the other day (where oh where??) about how meeting people “in real life” cements trust the way technological bonds doesn’t quite do. I’m building on this to mean that friendships that start on line can blossom when in-person meetings occur.

  6. Jimi says:

    This so resonates with me, especially your statement, “Bonds I thought were strong turned out to be merely situational.” There are women at my church that I consider good friends, but as soon as we were no longer in small group together, it seems like that friendship faded so quickly. It makes me sad. And frustrated that it takes so much effort to maintain them.

    Honestly, I think that is the part of friendship in my 30’s that has been surprising. Friendships take a great deal of intentionality (exactly because so often we are missing the repeated, unplanned interactions). And I really want my friendships to not just be a once a month lunch date. This post really makes me think…what do I expect from friendships now? What do I give? How can it be different?

  7. asithi says:

    I think most of my friendships are situational, even though they have extended the hand to make it more. My problem is that I am married to my best friends and am really close to my sisters. So emotionally, most of my need for friendships are already met and with a toddler, I don’t have as much time for maintaining friendships outside of situational friendships.

    However, the times I wish I have a lifelong BFF is when I see other women with their lifelong BFF and they talk about events of their past. Oh well, you get what you get. And I am blessed with my sisters.

  8. melyssa says:

    Yes, and yes, and yes. It just gets harder. It feels like dating; almost like playing games and dating to weed out the non-compatibles and find Miss Right. It’s just tiring because I miss the friends who were there the days I found out I was pregnant, the ones who stood up for us at our wedding, the ones who remember that awful funeral, and helped me potty train. I miss the ones who already know what my biggest fight with my husband was about, and who knows the story behind my siblings. The ones who have seen all the best movies with me, and who already know I don’t like popcorn. It’s tiring to start over, and it’s just not the same because you’ve already made most of the biggest memories of your life without them.

    Ah well. Maybe I’ll find someone to bond with over our grandchildren…

    • Anne says:

      Melyssa, this reminds me so much of what one of my long-gone situational friends used to say: “Sometimes, I just want to talk to someone who knows my whole history. It’s so much easier that way.”

      And about the grandchildren? I hope so! But I hope there’s lots of bonding that will happen between now and then 🙂

  9. I read this article when it first published, and it reminded me of something my uncle said. He told me once that the best friends my husband and I would have would be the friends we made before having children. He didn’t really say this to be depressing. He was telling me this as a comfort. Basically, I shouldn’t worry too much about making new friends during this season of my life. For the most part, I have found his statement to be true – except through the internet.

    For one, the friendships of my pre-children days are easier to keep alive because of social networking, but I can also connect with other people and make new friends through twitter as well as interaction through blogs.

    Great thoughts today, Anne!

  10. Tim says:

    Situational friendship is something I first noticed as soon as I got out of high school. The pattern has repeated itself through college, law school, marriage, raising kids, changing careers, etc. Not to play down the importance of friendship, but I have been focusing more on being a neighbor (in the Luke 10:25-34 sense) than trying to make friends as my life has progressed.*

    Tim

    *Some may look on this and jump to the conclusion that close friendships just aren’t as important to men as women. I’d point them to David and Jonathan in 1 Samuel 20.

    • Katie says:

      They certainly are just as important! It bothers my husband more than it bothers me, actually, that we don’t have any close friends. I tried to point out a few people he hangs out with as friends, and he said, “Yeah, but I don’t really have anyone I can talk to.”

      Women are the ones stereotyped as chatting constantly with their girlfriends, but it’s just as important for men to have someone they can confide in and discuss important and personal issues with.

      And in fact, I think it’s easier for women to make those friends because of those stereotypes, so women seem to be more open or “on the lookout” for those relationships, while it takes more for men to move past the “just hanging out” stage. I can have pretty good “deep” conversations with women situationally, but my husband doesn’t seem to be able to do that as easily with other men.

      I used waaaaay too many “quotation marks” in this comment, yikes.

      • Katie, my husband and I seem to be opposite of you, so I’d love your thoughts on how you have “deep” conversations with other women. He’s able to talk about meaningful things with his guy friends fairly quickly – partly because of his personality. However, I feel it’s hard as a women to get past the surface-y “what’s new with you” phase in the conversation. So many women don’t want to open up until they’re 100% certain you’re going to stay their friend forever. Any thoughts on this? I’m new to our city so every friend I make is a new friend!

  11. HopefulLeigh says:

    Great thoughts, Anne! My online friends have certainly complemented the real life relationships I have. Life is all the better when online friends make the transition to real life friends, though it’s unfortunate when we all live in different places. Nashville boasts so many social media creatives that quite a few of my friendships started out through Twitter and are now people I hang out with on a regular basis. It can be a great foundation for a lasting friendship. And then while meeting people out on the town, social media can be a great way of laying foundation to cement the friendship.

    I find friendship at this stage of life requires more intentionality. Unless you live in the same neighborhood, it means keeping tabs on the last time you got together or talked on the phone. It means putting a date down on the calendar a couple of weeks in advance. Adapting to each other’s present season (work craziness, family constraints, etc.) is paramount. Some people are better at this than others. I’m a scheduler, a party planner, a linker of people so I don’t mind being the one reaching out and making things happen. To a point. Friendship goes both ways and it’s best when you find someone who is willing to make room for you in their life.

    Glad we get to see each other again this weekend!

    • I think you’re right about the intentionality. Having to coordinate it so that my husband will be available to watch the kids means I can’t meet a friend for lunch on a whim. Or I can, if I bring the kids, but that doesn’t allow for any sort of real conversation.

      I’m not good about reaching out and making things happen, although I’m working hard to be better about it. I do best when it ends up being a standing appointment kind of thing (which reminds me, I need to send an email about some dinner plans…)

  12. Pingback: When did making friends get to be so hard? | Caffeinated Catholic Mama
  13. Kara says:

    Two of my new favorite bloggers together in one picture! How wonderful.

    I often get frustrated with myself for my general unwillingness to make an effort to meet new friends. I am blessed with a few amazing, close friends, but like you, Anne, my kindred spirits mostly live many miles away…Canada, Italy, Northern California. It’s rough. I am thankful for technology that allows me to stay in touch with them. Now it’s also allowing me to get to know new blog friends through their writings and encouraging emails. I agree that friendship doesn’t feel really real until you’ve met in person, though. That solidifies it somehow. If either of you ever travel to Texas let me know! 🙂

    I’ve been trying lately to challenge myself and be deliberate about investing quality time in acquaintances that could turn into friendships. Most of my opportunities to do so come from church folks or coworkers. In my small group at church, we have dinner at someone’s house once a month. Since the group is relatively new, we’ve been taking turns at these dinners sharing our “stories”. People give whatever information they want to about their lives and faith up to this point. This has really helped to sort of fast forward past the surface-level conversations, which I appreciate. Small talk can be such a nuisance, or is it just me? 🙂

    It’s hard enough to make time now. I can’t imagine what a challenge it will be when we (Lord willing) throw kids into the mix someday. My husband is absolutely my best friend, and the idea of just spending my free time with him is always tempting. However, this post is a good reminder that friendships with others are enriching and worth the effort.

  14. Malisa Price says:

    I absolutely agree with the C.S. Lewis quote. And I have met a number of amazing ladies because of blogging! Even though the internet has it’s negative aspects, I am so grateful for the friends I’ve met because of it. You included!

  15. One of the hardest things for me to accept as an adult is the situational friendship. I like to hold onto my friends…well past the point of when that is feasible, practical or even mutual. It’s just…when I find someone I really click with, who I really like, who I’ve gone through “stuff” with and emerged stronger on the other side…I don’t want to let her go. But, like it or not (and I do NOT), that’s life. Letting go of those situational friends is so hard, even when I have the new friends to supposedly take their place. Like that song, I simply want both, the silver and the gold.

    • Anne says:

      “But, like it or not (and I do NOT), that’s life.”

      Big sigh here. That’s definitely what my life is like. But I’m with you, I want the silver and the gold. (We were at a wedding recently where a bridesmaid sang that song as part of her toast and I had it in my head for a week! I think you’ve just re-lodged it in my brain. 🙂 )

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